This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Defying Categorization: Stray Objects and Women’s Material Practices in Nineteenth-Century Fiction




Miller, Robyn

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation




This dissertation engages nineteenth century material objects that fall outside of established categorization and those objects’ associations with contemporary, women-authored texts. A common link between these “stray objects”—be they historical stitched sampler or fictional prized necklace—is their seemingly disruptive applications that both perpetuate and overturn widespread practices. Each chapter of this dissertation focuses on a feminine craft or possession and how the metonymic histories of these objects reify their traditional application and transcend categories to construct new subjectivities or exploit widespread ideologies. Following stray examples of needlecraft, gemstones, glass, and birds reveals the complicated means through which women engaged in material practices, resisted or repurposed objectification, or positioned themselves in spheres outside the domestic realm. Most importantly, these objects signify women’s connection to the nineteenth-century world in ways innumerable: as entwined with colonial meanings, subject to problematic domestication, and connected to animal ecologies. Following these strays is crucial to future scholarship, as they not only preserve historical and cultural archives, but they also provide additional glimpses into women’s complex roles within the said archives. To recover these stray objects is to re-envision the role of objects as foci of rich cultural connections and subjectivities.